Friday, January 1, 2016

2015: The Year in Rear View - Top 30 album picks for the year.

Low and behold we just emerged from the tail end of a year in the twenty first century that was actually praiseworthy, music-wise anyway.   In 2014 I struggled so arduously to come up with a legit roster of my top album titles that year, I subsequently buckled and instead made a list of my most listened to albums of that year, be they current or otherwise.  Luckily, 2015 didn't give me the same excuse.  Chalk that up to so many returning and established favorites like Ben Folds, Mew, Motion City Soundtrack, Passion Pit, The Church, Silversun Pickups, not to mention a reunited Swervedriver and Failure!  None of the above delivered their career-best mind you, but still managed to convey genuinely commendable titles in most instances.

'15 saw the emergence of white-hot upstarts in the guise of Meat Wave (think Hot Snakes meets the Wipers), the urgent dream-pop revisionism of Weed and Infinity Girl, Viet Cong's inventive guitar melees, and the relatively conventional pop of Britain's Fickle Friends whose "Velvet" would likely qualify as my favorite song of the year were I to compile a ranking of such.  Elsewhere EZTV brought something toothsome to the power pop dinner table with their first record, Calling Out, Philly's Beach Slang fulfilled the promise of two '14 eps on their premiere full length, and Brooklyn's Regal Degal truly arrived with their vibrato-laden, post-punk stunner Not Now.  

Key among the welcome spate of newcomers was St. Lenox, the aka for Andy Choi whose soaring, soulful timbre conjured up everyone from Stevie Wonder to Jeff Buckley.  This compelling early 2015 arrival (and my #3 pick) Ten Songs About Memory and Hope boasts slice-of-life songcraft to die for, independent of Choi's devastating pipes.  Also filling out my top three is the euphoric second ep from one of my current addictions, Great Good Fine Ok, 2M2H's sly incorporation of urban-contemporary grooves into a frenzied techno-pop pastiche could break them big in 2016.  For the first time in eons, I had an overriding favorite pick for my album of the year.  If Neon Indian's 2012 stunner Era Extrana was a surreal melding of shoegaze-cum-electronica, VEGA INTL. Night School found headmaster Alan Polomo shifting a bouquet of samples and shifty, labyrinthine grooves straight to the dance floor in ways that Prince could only hope to encounter in his wildest fever dreams.

2015 was the year that Deerhunter and Tame Impala moved me firmly into their camps, via some successfully sonic tweaking on Fading Frontier and Currents, respectively.  Juliana Hatfield reunites with her two boy buds Todd Philips and Dean Fisher for a new JH3 album and it just might be the best thing she's put her name on in a good ten years or so.  Nai Harvest's latest is  a deliriously skilled distorto-punk pop mini-masterpiece.  And finally, one more notable title.  Do try to check out Funeral Advantage's Body is DeadIt's smoothed-over, dream pop bliss that's sure to propel it's way to the upper echelons of your chill-out soundtrack.  And about that's directly below.  BTW there is no "sampler" or audio companion to accompany this entry.   I've offered such in years past only to have it struck down by some of the higher ups.

01. Neon Indian - VEGA INTL. Night School (Mom + Pop)
02. Great Good Fine Ok - 2M2H ep (Ultramusic)
03. St. Lenox - Ten Songs About Memory and Hope (Anyway)
04. Nai Harvest - Hairball (Top Shelf)
05. Regal Degal - Not Now (Terrible)
06. Meat Wave - Delusion Moon (SideOneDummy)
07. Funeral Advantage - Body is Dead (Native Sound)
08. Mew - +/- (Play it Again Sam)
09. Juliana Hatfield Three - Whatever, My Love (American Laundromat)
10. Weed - Running Back (Lefse)
11. Tame Impala - Currents
12. Fickle Friends - Velvet ep + singles
13. Swervedriver - I Wasn't Born to Lose You (Cobraside)
14. EZTV - Calling Out (Captured Tracks)
15. Motion City Soundtrack - Panic Stations (Epitaph)
16. Failure - The Heart is a Monster
17. Ben Folds and yMusic - So There (New West)
18. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - The High Country (Polyvinyl)
19. Deerhunter - Fading Frontier (4AD)
20. Viet Cong - s/t (Jagjaguwar)
21. Marietta - As it Were & Cuts ep
22. Passion Pit - Kindred
23. Beach Slang - The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us (Polyvinyl)
24. Infinity Girl - Harm (Topshelf)
25. Ringo Deathstarr - Pure Mood (Real Cool Trash)
26. Slanted - Forever 
27. Tenement - Predatory Highlights (Don Giovanni)
28. Fire in the Radio - Telemetry (Wednesday)
29. The Church - Further/Deeper (Unorthodox)
30. Silversun Pickups - Better Nature (New Machine)

Honorable mentions:
Maritime - Magnetic Bodies/Maps of Bones
Urban Cone - Polaroid Memories
Beach House - Depression Cherry
Heat - Rooms
Poncho - s/t ep 
Killing Joke - Pylon
Royal Headache - High
Twerps - Range Anxiety 

And of course, there's all the new records I meant to investigate but never did: Built to Spill, Pleasure Leftists, Wire, Tommy Keene, Car Seat Headrest, Doleful Lions...overwhelmed as usual. 


Benj said...

Beach Slang and Funeral Advantage restored my faith that new music (for me that means anything post-1994) can be good.

Marshall Harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jonder said...

Thanks for these recommendations! I will be checking them out....

Mark said...

Very nice list. You noticed Twerps, especially nice, and the Church album WAS a return to form. I saw this year as an especially big one for Australian and NZ bands, something that happens every so often.

Please take the following as bands/albums to check out. They were my Top 3. Acid TALES OF CONTEMPT (on Mainman, ad from NJ), Surf City JEKYLL ISLAND (on Fire, and from Auckland, NZ), and Kelly Stoltz IN TRIANGLE TIME (on Castleface, and from SF, CA). Twenty years on, you or someone like you, will point to these as obscure. Or overlooked. Or some other O-word.

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